With “Smaug,” Jackson opens up the story in an attempt to create a bigger universe, much like he did with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but the tale is too slight to support the added weight, and the focus and impetus are lost. Why do we have to spend so much time with the pouty elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace) warning his son and heir Legolas (Orlando Bloom) not to fall for the beautiful Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, playing a character that never existed in the books), because she’s not worthy of the throne? Why do we have to endure Tauriel’s torment at being torn between duty to her tribe and her love for one of the dwarfs, Kili (Aidan Turner), who conveniently happens to be unusually tall for his kind?
Why does Gandalf have to exit the film at midpoint to face off against Sauron, when we already know how all that business turns out? I appreciated the detail and sense of community that Jackson puts into his depiction of Lake-town, a port city in which a widowed smuggler (Luke Evans) plays an important role in the dwarfs’ quest (the city itself will be a major part of the third film). But did we really have to spend that long meeting all the denizens and their children?
And then there’s the chatty dragon situation. “The Desolation of Smaug” builds and builds to a confrontation between the heroes and the enormous fire-breathing beast, which sleeps on mountains of gold coins and jewels and treasure. As usual, Jackson doesn’t disappoint on a visual level — the dragon looks wonderful — but man, does Smaug like the sound of its own voice. Acted by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug talks and talks and talks and talks — he’s like all the James Bond and Dr. Evil villains rolled into one — and despite his impossible size and fearsome appearance, he’s never all that quite imposing (he’s certainly not very bright, either).